Okay to Use Only Two Speakers with 7.1 AVR?

I bought a Denon AVR-1913 AV receiver. It’s a 7.1-channel unit, but I am planning to use only two speakers initially. Is it okay to do so? What speakers do you suggest?

– Aji A
Austin, TX

It’s perfectly fine to use only two speakers with a 7.1-channel AVR. In fact, many receiver makers specify the power output with only two channels driven, which is typically higher than with all channels driven, so you’ll likely get closer to the rated output with only two speakers connected. Don’t worry, though—that receiver will still sound fine driving all seven speakers when you hook them up.

As for which speakers to get, that all depends on your budget. The AVR-1913, seen in the photo above, includes a feature called "low-impedance drive capability," which means it can safely drive speakers with lower-than normal impedance (i.e., lower than 8 ohms). So the range of possible candidates is wider than it might otherwise be.

If you’re on a tight budget, I recommend the Pioneer home-theater speakers designed by Andrew Jones, which offer exceptional sound quality at amazingly affordable prices. For example, the SP-PK52FS 5.1 package with floorstanding front left and right, center, two bookshelf surrounds, and powered subwoofer is only $550, while the SP-PK22BS 5.1 package with bookshelf speakers instead of floorstanders for the front left and right is only $450. Add a pair of SP-BS22-LR bookshelf speakers ($130) for the back surrounds, and you’ve got a killer 7.1 speaker system. If you really want to start with only two speakers, you can get a pair of SP-FS52 floorstanders (seen in the photo above) or SP-BS22-LR bookshelf models (both $130/pair) and add the other matching models later.

If you can spend a little more, I generally recommend PSB and GoldenEar Technology speakers, which produce excellent sound for reasonable prices. For example, the PSB Image T6 floorstander lists for $1200/pair, while the GoldenEar Triton Two is $2500/pair, and the Triton Three is $2000/pair; see the Secrets review of the Triton Two within a matching 5.1 system here.

Whatever you do, be sure to assemble a surround system with speakers that are tonally matched, which means they should come from the same product line of a given manufacturer. For example, if you get the PSB Image T6 floorstanders to start with, add the Image C5 center and Image B6 bookshelf speakers for the surround channels. (You could also build a less expensive system with the Image T5 floorstanders, C4 center, and B5 or B4 bookshelves for surrounds.) If you prefer bipole surrounds, get a pair of Image S5s.

The point is to build a surround system from the same product line so the tonal characteristics match from one speaker to the next. This is important in order to create a seamless surround soundstage—as objects move from one speaker to another, you don’t want the timbral quality to change.